I went to Austria to see the bulls run. But they weren’t very fast—in fact, they were set in stone. “Die Bullen von Fuschl” is a herd of bronze beasts stampeding out of the headquarters of Red Bull, maker of the eponymous energy drink, onto an artificial lake in a small village a dozen miles away from Salzburg. According to the company, they together form the largest cast bronze sculpture in Europe. I was curious to see how that company—which is making major contributions to public space and music education through its Red Bull Academy, as well as satisfying testosterone seekers with a Formula One team—saw itself on its home turf. And they sent me a ticket.
What I found was something that has all the raw energy and—to me at least—the dissonant aesthetic that the “power drink” represents. The building’s main designer and the sculptor of the bulls is the Austrian artist Jos Pirkner. Trained originally as a jewelry designer, he has worked on public art for decades, and is a friend of Red Bull’s co-owner, Dietrich Mateschitz. As a result, the Red Bull Headquarters does not conform to standard ideas about what a good building should be—though it does appear to be a perfectly functional office building. “I don’t know codes, and I don’t want to,” Pirkner told me, before going on to say that “I do not look at contemporary architecture, or art, for that matter. I don’t want influences.” With the help of anonymous, but obviously code-conscious architects, he got the project done. He also made a structure that Mateschitz obviously loves enough to use it as his company’s calling card on the website.
Pirkner designed the main pavilion like a yurt whose conical roof is covered with basalt tiles. His idea was that it is meant to resemble a volcano, but its effect is to evoke the foothills of the Alps that surround the village of Fuschl am See and the Fuschlsee lake on which it sits. The offices then curve around this object like ripples moving out towards the site’s edge. The central area is also a gathering space surmounted by Mateschitz’s office suite, though he apparently rarely uses his panoptical perch.
The headquarters is a glass complex connected by bridges and floating on a pond. Landscaped gardens in turn conceal the parking area. The detailing of the structures is clunky, but forthright, so that you can see each of the pieces as they come together. Without a “trained” architect’s preconceptions, Pirkner chose to let you understand even the most banal of conditions, such as where a glass curtainwall meets a soffit, as a moment of sculptural confrontation.
Within this energized version of an office landscape, Pirkner placed sculptural moments ranging from custom designed door handles to handrails, and from staircases to the bulls themselves. Between the conversion of what we think of as abstract background forms (office building geometry) and materials (glass curtainwall, marble floors, plaster) into form, and the transformation of moments where the body moves or touches the structure, as well as the building’s focal points, into tactile forms, Pirkner has made what should be just an office building into something altogether more alive.
The Red Bull Headquarters is not altogether pretty, and its forms and messages are not at all subtle. In their awkwardness, they answer the Sound of Music-like surroundings (or, more accurately, the Sissi-like surroundings, as the German films about that Austro-Hungarian Empress were filmed nearby) with something altogether more primeval and energetic. They are to the local architecture, and to suburban office building architecture in general, what Red Bull is to mixed drinks.
Aaron Betsky is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.